Gjirokastra In Your Pocket

Birthplace of both feared dictator Enver Hoxha and renowned writer Ismail Kadare, this UNESCO World Heritage listed town is well worth visiting for the sweeping views from its castle, and for the well-preserved Ottoman architecture of the merchants' houses, clinging against the mountain and built with defence purposes in mind.

Gjirokastra also has a charming bazaar area with small shops facing cobbled streets. The castle, entered from either the valley or the town side, now houses the National Arms museum, though the best things about it are the fantastic views across the valley, and the desintegrating US Airforce jet plonked on top of the castle. When it landed in 1957, the regime claimed that the plane was spying on Albania and was forced down, though now it seems that the unlucky pilot simply got lost in bad weather and had to make an emergency landing.

During the Cold War, Gjirokastra's party elite had access to a claustrophobic bunker complex beneath the castle, which is slowy being made accessible for tourists - ask the information office for more.

Gjirokastra has one of Albania's best tourism offices (near the bazaar area, tel.+355 84 26 90 44, tic@gjirokastra.org, www.gjirokastra.org, open 09:00-17:00 Mar-Nov, 09:00-15:00 Dec-Feb), with friendly staff dishing out information, making accommodation bookings, and selling books and artisan souvenirs. Their website is a great resource of practical information.

For food, try the Festivali or the Argjiro restaurants just below the bazaar; the Fantazia bar on a hilltop above the bazaar has a great terrace for drinking.

The Kalemi Hotel (Llagjia Palorto, tel. +355 84 26 37 24/+355 68 223 43 73, draguak@yahoo.com, http://hotelkalemi.tripod.com, $50 per room) is the place of choice for many foreigners, though the nearby Kotoni Bed & Breakfast, tel. +355 84 26 35 26 /+355 69 23 66 846, info@bb-kotoni.com, www.bb-kotoni.com, rooms €25) is a cheaper option with simple rooms, one in Ottoman style. Both hotels are found above the bazaar; turn left up the steep road past the mosque, and then right.